By betsy On Monday, October 18 th, 2010 · no Comments · In ,

It’s been a few weeks since I have posted, and for that I apologize; the mad rush of applications for the first round of business school deadlines got the best of me. I’ve tried to encourage my applicants to start early (as I have recommended time and time again, for example, in this blog post , but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the applicant will end early. There’s nothing I can say to those who have already submitted except, good luck! I will cross my fingers and pray to the heavens for all of you.

So this part is for those who are going to apply in Round 2 or Round 3. (And yes, I do know several people at the very best schools who have been admitted in Round 3. I just learned of a case of someone who was admitted in Harvard Business School’s Round 3 for the following year, so there’s always a possibility).

NO Cookie Cutters
Still, I always learn something from going through an admissions cycle. This year I still found people having difficulty answering the question . Perhaps it is because of the tendency to cut and paste, students are still not reading the prompts in the questions to get it right. Other students tend to understate their small, but unique accomplishments. Most people are worried because they haven’t started their own company or won a Nobel Prize, but that’s not the problem.

One balmy Palo Alto September evening, a first-year student at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and I were trying to figure out the “secret sauce.” Indeed, in a class of 390 out of over 7000 applicants, how did they gather such a unique and interesting bunch? Her answer: “no cookie cutters.” And she may be right. Most of the people walking around that unique campus broke some kind of mold.

In some ways, the fix is in – if you are wildly atypical, and you have great grades and scores, then you will get a second look (and the rest is up to you to execute). But not everyone looks wildly unique. Kellogg even prompts the student to go into that unusual side. One of that school’s optional questions begins…. “People may be surprised to learn that I…..” I believe the spirit of that question is to get behind that Clark Kent, Peter Parker or Diana Prince.

The Question behind the Question
Some applications don’t ask the question so explicitly, for example, University of Chicago now allows you to literally fill in the blank. (Note, I like the explanation, “Knowing that there is not a right or even a preferred answer allows you to demonstrate to the committee your ability to navigate ambiguity and provide information that you believe will support your candidacy for Chicago Booth.”) NYU also offers the chance to show your suprising side, for example, their well-known personal expression essay.

All of these prompts are there so that you can answer that question behind the question, “What Makes You Special?” So, as you get ready to start drafting your answers – get a little crazy. You can always dial it back. I’ve always said that you want to get in touch with your Inner Rock Star.

Now’s your chance.